Sometime around 1450 John Bannister built a wooden hall at Park Hill. The Bannister family had two major divisions in Lancashire, one branch at Darwen and the other at Bretherton with their manor house of Bank Hall (see our webpage on it here). John was part of the latter group, referred to as the ‘Bannisters of Bank’. He chose the Barrowford site for its proximity to the river and for the good farming soil.
The wooden hall would have been a cruick frame construction. An oak timber from a single large tree was split in half to form two curved mirror images that could carry the weight of the roof, meaning the wattle and daub walls didn’t have to give much support. The roof was made of heather thatch which sat on top of a straw base and these were bonded together with mud. There would be a vent to allow smoke out from the central hearth where the cooking would take place. Separate food storage and preparation rooms were at one end, and a parlour at the other. Although the wooden hall is now gone, the cruick construction style can be seen clearly inside the medieval barn which is on site above the garden at the Pendle Heritage Centre.
By 1492, his descendant Robert Bannister owned 200 acres of meadow, 46 acres of pasture, 10 acres of woodland and a vaccary (cattle farm) at Over Barrowford rented from the king. The Bannisters were very well off, but were still ‘only’ tenants. In 1507, Henry VII abolished the royal forests in the area and converted them to land that was to be rented out. The new tenants of this land were called copyholders. This gave them a fixed rent and rights for grazing, peat cutting, stone quarrying and coal mining. In return the Bannisters, as copyholders, had to act as jurors at Colne Manor Court, supply evidence in legal disputes and help the local baliff in giving out punishments to offenders.
A hundred years later, in 1590, a stone wing (which still exists, as do all the later stone extensions) was added to the existing wooden hall. This had walls up to three feet thick made from local gritstone. The windows had the luxury of glass and a new parlour with a large hearth was constructed around an imposing chimney stack. This parlour became the dining and entertaining room. The stone wing also had two service rooms and a buttery (or bottle store). For the first time there were proper upstairs bedrooms. This was all a big step up in grandeur, but within a hundred years the stone of this building would be whitewashed to hide its imperfections and to improve its waterproof properties.
The family’s fortunes continued to improve and by 1616, at the time of the second Robert Bannister, records show he had both a corn mill and fulling mill at Park Hill, as well as a part share in the manor of Foulridge and its corn mill. Another stone wing was added in 1650 (on the right hand side of the front view we see today) and by this stage the family was one of the wealthiest in Pendle – but this would be the high water mark of their fortunes.
In 1680, a stone hall was added to the second stone wing (the middle bit of the above view) but the whole property was also split into two parts by Henry and his son John. John lived in the older part, which now was referred to as Lower Park Hill and his father lived in the newer section with the new wing, simply referred to as Park Hill (much of what we see in the picture above). Henry got the new hall extension, old buttery and three chambers. John kept the Great Parlour, kitchen, milk house and two chambers. The garden and orchard were also split, each property having half. The family started to struggle financially and over 20 years their fortune fell by 80%.
John continued to have money trouble when he came into full possession of the estate after his father’s death. He leased Lower Park Hill out consecutively to three individuals, the last one of which, John Swinglehurst, lent him £500. A few years later when John was unable to repay the loan, Swinglehurst took possession of Lower Park Hill. The Bannisters continued to live in the newer Park Hill house. Just a few years later John declared himself bankrupt and was forced to renounce Park Hill and its estates, which all went to the Swinglehursts. The Swinglehursts even managed to take the Bannisters’ private chapel in Colne church, much the Bannisters’ dismay. Despite losing the property and manor, the Bannisters were able to stay on as tenants for 40 years and even added a porch to the Park Hill front of the house in 1750. Just two years later though, they left.
In 1780, the Swinglehursts rebuilt Lower Park Hill. They also added the Georgian house that butts up against the properties and now looks out over the river, and this is the familiar front we see today facing into the park. The Swinglehursts continued to live at the property, passing it down their family line and into the related family of the Holts, who stayed there until 1920.
In 1977, the Heritage Trust for the North West took over Park Hill, converting it into the Pendle Heritage Centre. This building preservation trust does essential work on promoting traditional building skills and supporting some of Lancashire’s most iconic places (see their website here). Today, Park Hill thrives as the Pendle Heritage Centre, well known for its excellent café, book and gift shop, as well as its restored walled garden. The museum is housed within the house and for a small charge visitors can learn all about the history of Park Hill, Bank Hall, Whalley and Sawley Abbey (the latter has carved stones on display). Also featured are the royal forests of Lancashire, religious diversity and conflict within the county and of course, the history of the Lancashire Witches.
10am-4pm Every Day, April through to September
See Pendle Heritage Website here
A Bannister Family History (2006) Heritage Trust for North West available from Pendle Heritage Centre
On site interpretation at Pendle Heritage Centre, in the Museum